Monday, August 29, 2011

The 2011 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc

So goes the cliched saying: A picture is worth a thousand words. And it definitely stands true for a race of epic proportions where the atmosphere, the scenery and the pain leave you speechless.

The 2011 Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc is a race that cannot be defined by characters on a page. The sheer scale of the mountains, the emotions felt when seeing the sunrise after 8 hours of racing, the taste of chicken noodle soup after 30 hours of non-stop moving cannot be quantified. In this spirit then, I will be brief with words and leave you to look at the pictures!

1 hour pre-race, I am making final adjustments to my race pack. Outside it is pouring with rain:

The Centre Sportif where we had to drop off our drop-bags. In the background you can see almost 2300 yellow bags:

On the streets of Chamonix, on the way to the race start. In the background imagine drums beating and the faint tunes of Vangelis' "Conquest of Paradise" song to inspire the runners:

Behind the start line, runners waiting in the rain:

Dawn breaking in the mountains, bringing into view the hundreds of runners along the trail:

Mountain views on the trail to Col du Bonhomme at 43km:

I survived the first big climb of the race, the Refuge Croix du bonhomme behind me:

Descending from the mountain pass, the snow recedes leaving green alpine grass. The trails are rolling and technical and from memory this was a really beautiful section to run!

The top of the second big climb of the race, 2516m at the Col de la Seigne, the conditions akin to the Arctic:

A green valley and Lac Combal barely visible through the mist:

The checkpoint at Lac Combal (1970m) behind me, the weather sunny and warm, lifting my spirits:

Courmayeur below me, the "half-way" point of sorts were I would stop for 20 minutes to change my socks and shirt and enjoy a good bowl of pasta:

Climbing up to Refuge Bertoni at 1989m:

Climbing up to the Grand Col Ferret (2537m), the highest point of the race arriving at 99km into the race! My legs at this point were beginning to resemble flat batteries, and yet step after step I climbed higher!

The tiny yellow North Face tent in the mountain pass. Here the wind was icy and my fingers turned bright red and swollen like Italian sausages:

At the aid station in Trient, one more big badass climb ahead of me:

Enjoying a big bowl of chicken noodle soup:

"Do I really have to climb 800m more after already having covered 140km?"

Last climb done, extremely relieved, and descending to Vallorcine from where I had 17km left:

Leaving Vallorcine:

Final 1km to run through the town of Chamonix, the hardest 1km of my life!
Photo courtesy of Runar Gilberg.

Finish line:

Sheer contentment!
Photo Courtesy of Lars Gilberg.

Margaretha! Welcome! Australia!” Catherine Poletti, the Race Director, stood with arms wide open and gave me a warm embrace. I crossed the line in 10th place female and well under my dream time of 36 hours. I was also the first Australian female to enter the top 10 since the race started in 1993. More importantly though, I crossed the line a stronger person, a woman that had been tested by the brutal wilderness of the Alps and survived with a huge smile on her face.

A huge thanks to the support of my parents for never faltering in their belief in me, My coach Jen Segger for preparing me, pushing me and giving me the tools to "crush" the trails, North Shore Athletics for their amazing product knowlege and support, and to all my friends across the world who never left my side on the trails!


  1. YOU HAVE TOTALLY INSPIRED ME TO COME DO THIS NEXT YEAR!!!! Your pack looked heavy! The scenery is amazing! Let's chat soon.

  2. Hi there!

    How are you doing?

    I think this is a remarkable thing- you should be proud. Isn't Sport an amazing thing??

    I was hoping to ask you a few questions about adventure racing and travel. It looks like you're a bit of an expert!

    If you'd be willing to help point me in the right direction for my future in the sport, I'd appreciate if you contacted me at

    Thank you so much! And again, Good For You.


  3. That's truly amazing Gretel. Contratulations!! What an amazing challenge and victory for you. And thanks for taking all (well most) of the pictures for everyone to share your adventure.
    Roger (running mere bumps of hills in Squamish)

  4. I found your blog while looking for people who have done the Frosty Mountain trail. You've done a lot of runs in BC that I would love to try out and leaves me with no excuses to not do since I live in Vancouver. Your photos are incredibly inspiring and so are you - congratulations on your successful race finish!

    Thank you for sharing your adventures!

    - Trish

  5. Toutes mes félicitations pour cette superbe performance!!Trés belle course, trés beau reportage qui donne envie de s'inscrire!
    Je risque seulement d'y passer beaucoup plus de temps!
    J'espère que nous pourrons venir en Tasmanie en mars et faire quelques balades avec vous.Il faudra juste nous attendre un peu...
    Nous vous attendons également en France!Encore bravo pour la performance!
    Corine SIMON, maman de Thibaut